Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do Britain's "Studio Schools" Have Ideas for American Higher Education?

We in the liberal arts college world talk a good game about "hands on" and "practical experience" and "learning outside the classroom," but 99% of it amounts to little more than aspirational yammering. The modal form of implementation is an unpaid internship with a social justice slant. I'd guess that part of the problem is that we've allowed our various under-articulated motivations to be gathered under an umbrella term being hawked by NGOs whose ideological motivations we don't really understand without every really having serious conversations among ourselves about the why and how of it. In short, we are pretty incoherent about how it fits into our overall educational philosophy.

An ongoing project in Britain called "studio schools" might have some lessons for us. Akin to charter schools in the US, it is sponsored by the Young Foundation. It is premised on the idea that conventional education over-values cognitive skills in a world where real projects require a wide range of skills and the capacity to work in teams involving people with diverse skill sets. Studio Schools derive some of its mode from guild era training when it gives kids opportunities "to work on real projects, within real teams, in real settings."(Write to the Bone: Exploring issues in depth blog)

An important feature of studio schools is that they are not an alternative to the university track:
...a new concept in education, which seeks to address the growing gap between the skills and knowledge that young people require to succeed, and those that the current education system provides. Studio Schools pioneer a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work. ...
Studio Schools are designed for 14-19 year olds of all abilities. ... small schools for 300 students; ... year-round ... and a 9-5 working day.... Working closely with local employers, ... offer a range of academic and vocational qualifications including GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, as well as paid work placements .... Students will gain a broad range of employability and life skills ... and will have the option to go on to university, further training, and into employment
Although pitched as a secondary education reform, the studio school model may contain some ideas that could be adapted to higher education in the small liberal arts college context.  This six minute video is a good starting point.  The website of the Studio School Trust is a good next stop. 

The Heavy Lifting in Higher Education

A great profile of community college instructor doing the hard work of making a difference in students' lives.

From the New York Times 21 December 2014.

Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges
Three years ago, Eduardo Vianna, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, had a student who passed an entire semester without speaking in class. Like many others, the student, Mike Rifino, had come to LaGuardia requiring remedial instruction.

But the following semester Mr. Rifino turned up in Dr. Vianna’s developmental psychology course. This time he took a seat closer to the front of the room. Taking that as a positive sign, Dr. Vianna asked him to join a weekly discussion group for students who might want to talk about big ideas in economics, education and politics, subjects that might cultivate a sense of intellectual curiosity and self-understanding among students whose backgrounds typically left them lacking in either.

“The group met on Friday afternoons,” Dr. Vianna said, “and Mike’s friends were asking him why he was wasting his time; the students who came weren’t getting any credit.”
Professors at elite four-year colleges can trust that students share a bank of references, that they will understand principles of critical inquiry, that they will appreciate conceptualization for its own sake. None of this can be assumed at a community college, where “the idea of academic discourse is completely foreign,” Melinda Karp, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, said.
Dr. Vianna and his wife, Dusana Podlucka, who has a doctorate in psychology and also teaches, part time, at LaGuardia, live in a 506-square-foot rent-stabilized apartment with their 8-year old daughter, Paula, on Lexington Avenue downtown. Paula, an avid cellist, occupies the bedroom and her parents sleep in the living room, on a foldout sofa.

More in the "Is Elite Higher Education Worth It?" Conversation

from the Washington Post's Wonkblog

Private colleges are a waste of money for white, middle class kids

"Many parents whose kids have their eye on an exclusive, private college face a difficult question: Is it worth unloading your life's savings or having your child take on tens of thousands of dollars in student loans?
Fortunately, for many Americans -- white, middle-class kids -- there's an easy answer: Don't pay more to go to a private college.
And the answer to the question is much more complicated for kids from families in other racial socioeconomic groups. But for white kids with well educated parents, what matters is getting a college degree, not where it came from.
"The happiest people, in general, were the ones who developed a relationship with a mentor, par-ticipated in extracurricular activ-ities or took on a major academic project -- all things you can do at any school."
The answer is much more complicated for blacks, Hispanics and those whose parents are comparatively less educated.

In Dale and Krueger's research, these groups did seem to make more money after attending more selective schools.

...attending an elite school might provide ... access to a new social circle that provides them with more economic opportunities later in life. Children of well-educated whites might already have that access and so don't gain anything from attending an elite school....

...other explanations. ...students from different circumstances pick up from their peers a set of social cues or professional habits that allow them to fit in among America's economically secure stratum....

But even for these groups, there are important caveats. ... for some, borrowing to pay tuition at a private school could be a wise decision financially. Yet the more a student has to borrow, the less likely the investment is to pay off, and borrowing ... is risky.... Costs can explode if a student takes longer than four years to graduate ... and if the student drops out, debt can become impossible to manage. Alternative ideas -- such as starting at a community or state university, then transferring to a private one -- might also be attractive.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will Traditional Higher Ed Be Disrupted by Pragmatic Tech Training?

I think the author overstates the prevalence and significance of the phenomenon he points to (the rise of ALPs - accelerated learning programs), but he's right that there's a trend and lots of folks in higher education don't see it.  The last two years or so have seen the emergence of lots and lots of (many for profit) organizations that promise to teach people actually employable skills and to do so in relatively short order.

Traditional colleges and universities that traffic in "education" with a capital E should at least be aware that this phenomenon makes their business look a little bit like the one that specifically does NOT teach you things that represent employability.

from the TechCrunch blog...
A Wave Crests: Silicon Valley, Postsecondary Education And A Half-Trillion Dollarsby Shawn Drost (@shawndrost)

It’s easy to forget that these are early days for the Internet. We still have different ideas on what it is or how it should work. The web is governed by an iterative improvement process that moves faster than any other invention in human history. Ed tech is no exception. 
I’d like to direct your attention to an interesting phenomenon: since 2012, most ed-tech companies have quietly rewritten their product promise from unbridled learning for learning’s sake to a path to a job or career goal — website copy now essentially says “jobs, jobs, careers, jobs.” 
That transition may be related to another 2012 development: the rise of accelerated learning programs (ALPs), including General Assembly and Dev Bootcamp. ALPs explicitly measure student employment outcomes, including placement rate and average salary, and they work. The ALP phenomenon has helped influence this product pivot in the ed-tech sector. When one of my students gets a job, I get a giant bear hug and the credit for getting them there, and other educational tools are sidelined. 
It’s not a coincidence that 2012 brought both the beginning of the end of the MOOC and the start of the ALP: the zeitgeist had latched on to the connection between jobs and education. Postsecondary education has been off-balance from decades of seismic change, and 2012 kicked off three back-to-back State of the Union addresses pushing universities to reduce student debt and take accountability for student employment outcomes. 
This chronology sets the stage for an interesting future. Postsecondary students have unambiguously stated their priorities: jobs, jobs, careers, jobs. But the incumbent university system is hesitant to adopt this new focus as paramount. Silicon Valley has cottoned on to this imbalance, and has its eye on the postsecondary education market — worth a half-trillion dollars every year. Read on for a sneak preview of the next few years, and an exploration of trends surrounding the 2012 transition. But first: a historical primer on college.